Sunday, 23 August 2015

Frequently asked questions on keeping hens :)

As you may already know, there is another mini hen rescue taking place next Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th of August. The task of finding these little girls new homes can be quite demanding to say the least. This is certainly not due to a lack of interest, as there is generally a lot of curiosity in keeping hens. It is demanding because people, OK maybe just us city folk, don't know very much about hens. I can hold my hand up and say the closest I got to a hen before adopting our 4 girls, was the eggs I bought in the supermarket. Naturally when you don't know what to expect, you can be apprehensive. 
Since adopting our 4 beautiful girls last December, Brian and myself have been inundated with many curious questions. With that in mind, I decided to put together a list of  the most frequently asked questions and their answers. Some may seem very obvious, but I am going to answer them anyway!

Q. When is an egg, an egg? And when is an egg a chick?

A. If I had a penny for every time I was asked this question I could retire right now! In order for an egg to hatch a chick it has to be fertilised. An egg can only be fertilised by a rooster, the male. The guy that is responsible for the cock-a-doodle-do at first light. If you just have hens, the eggs will remain edible and you are guaranteed no fluffy surprises. 

Q, Do the ex battery hens lay eggs? If so, why are they being re-homed?

A. They do indeed lay eggs. Delicious ones at that. The reason they are being re-homes is because their egg production will have dropped by 10%. Like any business, poultry farming likes to keep productivity at the highest levels possible. At 16 weeks new hens begin laying. At 18 months they slow down. It is at this point they are replaced by a new batch of young hens. My 4 girls are ex battery hens, and although they came from the worst possible conditions, there are 4 eggs in the rooster box 5 out of 7 days. The other 2 days I will find 3. 
Time of year also plays a very important role in egg laying. During the Summer months, egg production is at it's highest. This slows down coming into Winter and comes to a complete halt for 3 or 4 weeks during the very cold, short days. Natural egg production is season dependant. The longer and warmer the days, the more frequent the laying. Hens in poultry farms live under fluorescent lighting to maintain an artificial level of production. 

Q. I would like to keep hens but I heard they are very dirty and attract rats. Is this true?

A. Keeping any animal requires a little effort, baring in mind hens, like dogs cannot clean up after themselves. I won't lie, they do poo a lot. In fact they never stop. But then again so do my 2 Bichon Friese. However I do have a routine and I call it the poo sweep. When I come in from work I whip around the garden cleaning up after the girls. I clean out their coop, collect the eggs and wash down the patio with boiling water and disinfectant. I feed them and change their water. This takes 20 minutes in total. The dogs have to be cleaned up after anyway, so a few extra minutes really is a very small price to pay.
We also feed the girls in their pen and avoid throwing food all over the garden. Between the girls and the flock of resident sparrows, there is never any seed left. With no food scraps and a clean garden there is no reason rats or any other undesirable little creatures should be attracted. 

Q. Why have they no feathers? And will they grow back?

A. Hens pluck out their feathers as a way of dealing with the stress in the over crowded cages and barns. However, once they are free you can expect to see full plumage within 2 months.

Q. Will the hens adjust to their new life?

A. Hens will adjust to their new environment in no time at all. Once free to roam, they will regain strength in their legs and wings, and all of their natural instincts will kick back in. They are very clever little girls and quick learners. 

Q. How I can I protect the hens from the foxes? 

A. Unfortunately foxes are a constant threat. They are also very cleaver and must never be underestimated. There are a few measures we put in place that so far so good. In fact, Brian jokes the foxes would need a tool box to get to our girls! When we were assembling the
One big happy family x 
coup we placed it standing on ground sheet. It cost €2 per m2 in Woodied DIY This was stapled up around the edge of the coup and surrounded with bricks to prevent a fox from digging under the base of the coup. I also fixed hooks and locks to each of the coup doors. They do not come with locks and can be easily opened otherwise. 

Brian also built a pen for the girls which has given us so much piece of mind. During the day while we are at work, the girls happily share the garden with the 2 Bichon's, the boys. The boys are are reasonably territorial and do a great job of keeping everything else out. However while we are out walking the dogs and for the few hours in the morning when the girls are up and I still have an hour or two left on the alarm, the pen keeps them safe. Like the coup the pen, has a series of pad locks on the doors and the wire is ran under the pen to prevent foxes from digging. 

Q. What time do hens wake and go to bed?

A. Like all birds, hens wake and sleep with the sun. In short this means they are awake and ready for the day at 5am in Summer and 7:30am in Winter. They sleep as soon as the sun goes down, so on dark wintery  days they may be in bed by 4:30pm, and on long summer days, it could be 10pm before they turn in. But please don't be deterred by the early rising in summer, I usually set my alarm to let them into their pen and give them their breakfast before going back to bed. If you are organised, it takes couple of minutes at most. Just a tiny little sacrifice for the amount of joy they bring.  


  1. Great info, thanks. Do they cope ok outside when it's really cold?

  2. Very informative. How many days would the eggs remain edible for?

  3. Thanks a million Lisa! We rescued our girls in December last and to say it was pretty cold is an understatement. I was very concerned about the girls as their feathers were scantly clad around their tiny bodies. The first thing I did was make them little jumpers. Having no knitting ability, I resorted to transforming beanie hats into jumpers. I also lined the inside of the coup with felt as it retains the heat. Hay is also a great heat insulator and a soft alternative to straw. Plenty of hay and kept them comfortable and snug. I also covered the rooster box with a strong gardening bag to add extra protection against the rain and tacked another one over the small meche window on the frot of the coup. Last but not least, the girls were tucked up in bed each night with 2 hot water bottles that we replaced before going to bed ourselves. :)